Kerry dad slams homophobic vitriol at same-sex parents – ‘Some people still won’t acknowledge us as parents’

A Kenmare man who adopted twin boys offers support to same-sex Tralee couple on parenthood

Padraig (left) and his partner Thomas with their sons, Will and Ally.

Stephen FernaneKerryman

Kenmare native Padraig O’Neill and his partner Thomas Hughes are proud parents. The couple live in Glasgow where Padraig works as a GP, but they frequently travel home to Kenmare with their adopted sons, Ally and Will.

Padraig’s reason for speaking about family life is in response to the online vitriol directed at Tralee couple Ben Slimm and Joe Horgan, who recently announced baby Tadhg’s arrival in their lives.

Padraig makes the reasonable point that if a straight couple adopted they would not receive the same abuse as gay couples get. This is part of what makes it so upsetting for same-sex couples.

Padraig’s experience of being gay and growing up in Kerry is that most people are good. However, a sizable cohort are still guided by conservative, religious bigotry.

He thinks homophobia is ingrained in Irish society and will take more than the current generation to change this. Once Ally and Will entered their lives, the boys took over. All the bigotry and homophobic slights were put to one side as it’s ‘the kids that matter’ most.

Padraig is at pains to point out that same-sex couples experience the same emotional complexities, joys and pressures of parenthood.

He advised Ben and Joe not to listen to the negativity and surround themselves with people that respect them. In Padraig’s experience, most of the people that disagree with their decision to become dads will choose to stay silent.

“The most upsetting thing about the abuse Ben and Joe received is that it’s not about the dads, it’s about the children. These people are throwing insults at a child. If people are that evil to throw that level of abuse at a child, then I don’t know what society is anymore,” Padraig said.

“That’s the sad thing about it, the children are blanked. That’s how many people in Ireland deal with things; they say nothing. We’ve had people [in Kenmare] who sidestepped us on the street since we had the kids. We know of parents who will not let their kids near our kids,” he added.

As is life, there are moments when humanity and empathy shine through. Padraig insists this is the place to focus one’s energy.

“When we first got the boys, it was incredible in Kenmare. People came to our door with clothes and gifts, people that didn’t know us. People of our own generation seem to be okay with it. But there’s many people who do know us and who haven’t acknowledged us as parents. There are two different camps there, which is really unusual,” Padraig said.

The contempt towards same-sex couples that choose surrogacy and adoption is an issue that is not being addressed enough, according to Padraig. Experiencing homophobia in Kerry is one of the reasons why he left the county.

“Most gay guys are ashamed to walk down the street. But when you have two kids you don’t care as you realise it’s not about you anymore, it’s about the children. At the end of the day, you will do anything to protect them. We feel like the luckiest guys in the world with our twin boys. But walking down Kenmare with your head down is something I won’t forget,” Padraig said.

Even returning to Kenmare today sometimes exasperates Padraig. Noticing people who won’t accept them as fathers is irritating. Whenever Will and Ally are asked why they have two dads, Padraig explains that it’s possible to have two dads or two moms in society. Parenthood is a multi-layered responsibility.

“We had a lady that came up to us in a restaurant once when the boys were about two. Straight out, she said: ‘how did you do it? Did you mix it in a pot?’. We were just aghast,” he said.

“All the evidence from around the world would suggest that kids brought up by a gay couple seem to do much better socially and educationally,” he said.

"A lot of it comes from the fact we’ve had to jump through hurdles to get them. They are extra special to us. We’ve had to fight to have what we have. For that reason, I would say our kids are the most loved kids there are,” said Padraig.

You can follow Padraig and his family on Instagram: @realdadsofglasgow